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Human Rights Group Calls for Spotlight on N. Korea Humanitarian Situation


A privately produced report says international attention should be paid to the human rights situation in North Korea, which the report's authors say amounts to crimes against humanity.

The report says humanitarian concerns in North Korea - including widespread starvation and political oppression - should no longer take a back seat to security issues.

The report was commissioned by three prominent human-rights campaigners: former Czech President Vaclav Havel, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel.

International attention is again focused on North Korea after it agreed Tuesday to rejoin six-nation talks on its nuclear program. Three weeks ago North Korea defied international warnings and conducted its first nuclear test.

Attorney Jared Genser of the D.L.A. Piper law firm in Washington, D.C., headed a team of 20 lawyers that worked with the independent U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea to compile the report.

He told reporters in Tokyo that the international community - concerned that pressuring Pyongyang could endanger progress on security negotiations - has overlooked the humanitarian crisis in North Korea.

"And indeed by detonating a nuclear weapon, Kim Jong Il has made clear he will do what he wants with respect to the security issues, regardless of whether the international community decides that it will not raise human rights and humanitarian concerns," Genser said.

The report calls for the U.N. Security Council to adopt a non-punitive resolution, requesting Pyongyang to allow access to humanitarian relief programs in the country and to release political prisoners.

Genser acknowledges that getting the Security Council to act will be "very difficult," but says the alternative is a continuing nightmare for the North Korean people.

"And if we do nothing then the results we will get are already very clear," he said. "We will have ongoing suffering of people starving to death in the country by the tens, if not hundreds of thousands, up to millions. We will have hundreds of thousands of people in a gulag system where systematic crimes are being committed against them."

The report describes North Korea's brutal treatment of its citizens and blames government policies for causing famine and malnutrition. North Korea has consistently denied that it abuses its citizens.

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